SpaceX Launches First Operational Mission for NASA's Deep Space Network

The Falcon 9 rocket built by SpaceX successfully launched on Thursday, April 8, 2021, at 6:56 p.m. EDT from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The rocket carried the first operational mission of NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) and the fourth flight for the DSNSpacecraft, a twin satellite system. This mission will aid in the transformation of human communication capabilities and accelerate space exploration. It is a part of NASA's Artemis program, which aims to send the first woman and the first person of color to the Moon by 2024. Eventually, the program plans to establish a sustained presence on the Moon, along with preparing for missions to Mars.

The primary objective of the DSNSpacecraft mission is to integrate new technologies in ultraviolet (UV) optics and spacecraft-to-spacecraft communication systems. The UV optics technology will enable more accessible and extensive measurements of the impact of solar activity on Earth's atmosphere. Communicating spacecraft-to-spacecraft allows the DSNSpacecraft to deliver unprecedentedly comprehensive measurements of the charged particle population and energy in Earth's outer atmosphere.

The DSNSpacecraft system was built by NASA and the University of Colorado Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. It will provide valuable information and data to NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for approximately 12 years. This data will help in providing critical information for numerous applications, such as weather forecasting, environmental monitoring, and telecommunications.

This launch marked the first time SpaceX has been allowed to launch a mission that had been previously scheduled for a different launch provider. SpaceX won a lawsuit against NASA over this issue, ultimately deciding that the agency should be able to grant more than one launch contract for a given mission.

The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket previously supported the Crew Dragon's first demonstration mission, which launched NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station in November 2020. For this launch, the rocket was recovered at sea following booster separation using SpaceX's "Of Course I Still Love You" drone ship.

SpaceX has planned to launch a record-breaking number of satellites in the coming months. In early May, the company plans to launch its third group of Starlink satellites, which will add another 53 spacecraft to the growing constellation. This will bring the total number of Starlink satellites launched to more than 100. Later in the month, SpaceX is scheduled to launch its Transporter-4 mission, which will launch dozens of commercial payloads.

With this launch, SpaceX has completed over 100 successful flights for NASA. This includes missions like the Crew Dragon flights, Transporter missions, and dedicated launches.

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